GAO report on Station fire

Station fire
Photo from InciWeb

As we reported on August 6, 2010, the two California U.S. senators and several local House members signed a letter asking the Government Accountability Office to look into the management of the 2009 Station fire that burned 160,000 acres and killed two firefighters near Los Angeles. The Associated Press is reporting today that they have obtained a draft copy of the GAO report. Here is an excerpt from the AP article:

A draft report obtained by The Associated Press discloses conflicting accounts of why an air tanker was not summoned in the early hours of what turned out to be the largest wildfire in Los Angeles County history.

Critics have long said the U.S. Forest Service didn’t bring in enough aircraft and firefighters to quickly snuff the 2009 Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest. A nearby air tanker could have been called in shortly after the fire started, but the supervisor and the pilot provide different reasons why that didn’t happen.

“These decisions may be made with imperfect information and under severe time constraints, relying heavily on the professional judgment of those involved. It is not possible to know with certainty whether different decisions or actions would have resulted in a different outcome for the Station Fire,” the draft U.S. Government Accountability Office report concludes.


The report says the Forest Service needs to clear up foggy policies that could cause confusion when working with local firefighters.

In spite of the U.S. Forest Service’s November, 2009 report on the Angeles National Forest fire that found nothing to criticize about how the fire was managed in the first 46 hours, and further said that policies and procedures were followed, many knowledgeable former wildland firefighters have accused the USFS of under-staffing the fire during it’s early stages, and attacking the fire on the first night and the morning of the second day with strategy and tactics that were less than aggressive.

USFS releases Lessons Learned Report on Station fire

A few days ago the Wildfire Lessons Learned Center posted a copy of the Station Fire Lessons Learned Report, dated October, 2010, released more than two years after the fire. The two-year delay is probably due to the firefighter fatalities and the allegations of poor decisions made during the first 24 hours of the fire. If the allegations about the less than aggressive tactics, not using night flying helicopters the first night, and a several hour delay in dispatching air tankers the next morning are true, those decisions may have prevented the fire from being contained during the first 24 hours.

Some of the headlines from the Lessons Learned Report are below.

Station fire lessons learned

More information on Wildfire Today about the Station fire.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “GAO report on Station fire”

  1. That is one sweet report.

    One can see all those issue and especially IF the USFS hasn’t used night fly helos since 1980 and CalFire is not going to subject their acft due to age. Begs to the aviation community and the USFS….what is THAT COST going to be? Best have some dinero ready for the operators/cooperators and not expect those folks to absorb the entire cost. Also the Risk Assessment will somewhat skyrocket!! But Standby…..USFS Region 5 will have all the answers in the winter 2011/2012…now won’t they?

    Good thing AAR’s are required by NIMS and whatnot.. Incidents such as these need to be addressed as do many other emergency management operations and should remain in the open and not hidden by the agencies for FOIA issues. One can see others AAR’s in and the requirement out to be that these issues get to be seen there when the slightest hint of an FMAG is being considered

  2. I was once told that after the initial dispatch if you “add” resources (over order) during the initial attack period, and the fire is contained, your boss will probably let you know, “you didn’t really need all that stuff” (listening from his/her desk). No one will remember that conversation past a few days. HOWEVER if you (under order) and the fire takes large tolls, everyone seems to remember that forever. It is all a balancing act.


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